Robyn Benson, PSAC

Ebenezer Moore and our hungry kids


By now, Industry Minister James Moore’s offhand remarks the other day are common knowledge: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”

Step back and savour that one for a moment. No need, it seems, to drag out the Dickens this year. Our Conservative government is providing the lead character in the tale before our very eyes.

Those of the tradition will hear echoes of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in Moore’s words, to which the response is apparently, No. As Minister of Industry, one can almost hear Moore echoing the impatient questions of his predecessor: “Are there no prisons? No workhouses?”

At first, Moore tried to claim that his words had been taken out of context. But then the audio emerged: the only additional context was his fat little chuckle at the end of the comment.

And it gets worse. “We’ve never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier,” he went on to boast. But what does he mean by “we?” Rising child poverty in Canada is or should be a national scandal: our child poverty rates put us at the 15th place among 17 peer countries. And British Columbia, Moore’s home turf, happens to have the worst child poverty rate in Canada. Amid unprecedented wealth, the very existence of hungry children is a cause for shame, not glib self-satisfaction.

Moore argued that child poverty was a provincial concern, not a federal one. But his claim is belied by the fact that the House of Commons unanimously passed an all-party resolution in late 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. There was no silly talk of jurisdiction then.

Moore himself, as one blogger notes, has been inconsistent on the jurisdictional question. And in any case, the federal government is not stopped from partnering with the provinces on nation-wide initiatives in health, welfare and education. The Canada Health Act is a case in point: the provinces deliver health programs, and the federal government provides resources and, to some degree, sets national standards.

In the matter of Aboriginal child poverty, furthermore, the federal government has full jurisdiction. And here we might suspect that the spirit of Scrooge is conscious government policy, not merely the unpleasant inclinations of one of its Ministers, whose utter absence of human compassion has been in the news before.

As insufficient as provincial support for poor children may be, they enjoy on average 22% more child welfare resources than on-reserve kids. But, rather than fighting child poverty on First Nations reserves, the government has been spending literally millions of your dollars and mine to fight against equal child welfare support for First Nations kids.

For Minister Moore to utter the words that he did, then, seems symptomatic of Harper government policy in general, not to mention its basic moral values. There is an airy unconcern here, a lack of empathy with ordinary Canadians, that runs so deep in the soul of this government that, in the midst of the holiday season, a Minister of the Crown can snicker about child poverty and evidently be surprised that an outcry erupted.

Our union crossed paths (and swords) with Minister Moore earlier this year, when he ordered a forced vote of our FB group that was subsequently hammered flat by the courts for procedural unfairness. Let me just say that we found him ineffectual and frankly evasive during our dealings with him. His obviously forced apology yesterday fails to impress me. It’s just political damage control, nothing more.

In any case, the immediate, visceral reaction from ordinary Canadians over Moore’s remarks was deeply reassuring to me. Despite nearly eight years of Conservative rule, I can still recognize my country and my fellow citizens in that collective expression of outraged decency. But I cannot begin to understand a government that seems to glory in its lack of compassion for Canada’s most vulnerable—injured vets, pensioners, and now children. Scrooge, as we know, sincerely repented at the end—but his three Christmas ghosts have yet to appear in Ottawa.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on December 17, 2013 8:30 AM.

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